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Roads a Lifeline – Crores Spent on Highways May Go to Waste

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HP State Highway DPRS Corruption

Shimla-Centre has spent crores on Project Reports and paid consultants in ‘construction and maintenance work of 69 State Highways’, which were to be approved in principle for up­gradation as National Highways. However the approval is yet not made, and there is a reasonable apprehension that the money which stands already spent by the Centre, would ultimately go to waste if the Revised Guidelines for declaring a State Highway as National Highway are not issued.

This in simple terms means that roads which are right now ‘State Highways’, are to be converted into ‘National Highways’, and only after that, the DPRs/consultancy works can be put to use. However the said conversion is not certain, and if the same is not undertaken, then all the money which stands spent on DPRs and consultancy works will go to waste.

Taking note of the matter, the bench of the Hon’ble Chief Justice, J. Surya Kant and J. Sandeep Sharma, had directed the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to file a status report, along with a map, depicting Highways which were approved in principle for up­gradation as National Highways. It was also directed that the amount spent on DPRs and paid to the Consultants, be also disclosed.

The status report was filed along with the details of the release of payments towards DPRs/ consultancy work. Here, for the first time, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways disclosed that it is still “in process of framing the Revised Guidelines for declaration of State Roads as National Highways”.


It was discovered by the Court that an amount of over Rs 24 crores had already been released to the Consultants for preparation of DPRs. Also, as per the details submitted separately, a sum of 163 crores more was yet to be spent.

The Hon’ble Court came down heavily on such a practice followed by the Central Government, as it outrightly smacked of foul play.


The Court, in its order, observed:


It goes without saying that hundreds of crores of rupees have been decided to be spent even without issuing the Revised Guidelines for declaring a State Highway as National Highway.

Going by the non­-committal stand taken on behalf of the Ministry, it is possible that whatever amount has already been spent can go in waste, for it would be as per the Revised Guidelines only as to whether or not any State Road in the State of Himachal Pradesh would be formally declared as a National Highway.

Such a practice evolved by the Ministry cannot be appreciated. Firstly, there should have been a final decision as to which are the State Roads to be declared as National Highways and thereafter, the amount ought to have been spent on DPRs etc.

The Court with a view to satisfying its conscious asked one of such consultants, to produce the details of work done by it, in lieu of the huge sums of public money which was paid to him by the Central Government.

The Hon’ble Court further observed that the roads are lying abandoned without any maintenance causing unexplainable inconvenience to the public at large. The Court also mentioned that the existing National Highways are also not being properly maintained at all. The case is now listed on 22 May.

The strictness from the Hon’ble Court comes as a blessing for the Himalayan State. In the mountains, roads are considered as a lifeline of people. Unlike nonhilly terrains, more often than not, there is a single route which is connecting areas with scattered habitats. Most of the places have only a single road which is responsible for bringing in food, resources, medicines and further for connecting hospitals, schools, banks, institutions, and marketplaces etc. Any disruption of the same amounts to causing ‘the civil death’ of people connected by such routes.

Hence the responsibility of taking care of roads in the hills is of prime concern and is a serious matter of public importance. Court’s monitoring of construction of roads, toilets etc is absolutely necessary.

The arguments that Courts are indulging in “activism ” or encroaching in ‘policy matters’, falls flat on its face, when we look at such practical examples of foul play and corruption, that too in matters of such vital importance. The Hon’ble Courts are custodians of our rights and certainly, are not expected to stay blinded to such violations.

It is the obligation of the State to secure to the public the means of communication/transport in good and proper condition. It is their duty, responsibility and obligation to provide proper roads within their jurisdiction to the commuters throughout the year.

Bad road in mountains means physical damage, huge economic loss and more accidents (Hundreds of school children have lost their lives due to school buses meeting accidents, many have lost their lives in just past one year, one of the major reason of such reoccurring tragedies is bad road conditions).

Deven Khanna is a Lawyer practising at High Court of Himachal Pradesh, other H.P Courts/Tribunals and the Supreme Court of India, he is an alumnus of a National Law School.

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Large Quantity of Banned Tobacco Products Seized in Shimla City

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Shimla SDM seizes Banned Tobacco products in himachal

Shimla-In 2012, Himachal Pradesh Government had imposed a complete ban on the storage, manufacture, and distribution of tobacco-based products that included gutka (tobacco-laced areca nut pieces), pan masala, and khaini. At that time, gutka used to cost at an MRP of Rs. 1 and Khaini and Pan Masala between Rs. 3 to Rs 5. 

However, the imposition of the ban didn’t yield the desired results of discouraging consumption of these chewing tobacco products. Seizure of these products in occasional raids aptly proves it.

In a similar instance, on July 18, 2019, the Sub-divisional Magistrate, Shimla (Urban), Niraj Chandla, raided four shops near Lakkar Bazaar bus stand in Shimla city.  In this raid, about nine sacks of gutka and khaini, each weighing between 15-20 kg, were seized from a wholesale distributor and three other shops. It implies that over 150 kg of banned tobacco products were seized from just four shops.

SDM Shimla Raid

SDM Shimla (Urban) During the Raid

The seized products were sent to Lakkar Bazaar police station and a case was registered against the offenders under Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COPTA), 2003. The Excise and Taxation Department has also been asked to take action.

“Shops were inspected in Lakkar Bazar area near the bus stand. Many complaints of sale of tobacco products were received, so a team was formulated and a raid was conducted. Banned tobacco products were recovered from the raided shops. Nine cartons were seized and handed over to police to proceed under COTPA,”

confirmed a member of the team.

Gutka sale in Himachal Pradesh

Banned tobacco products seized from a shop in Lakkar Bazaar during a raid

The SDM said she had been receiving complaints regarding the sale of these products.

The situation is far worse in reality.  These products continue to be sold in black. After seven years of the ban, these products can be bought anywhere in the state. The only difference that is noticeable is that now the Gutka that used to cost Rs. 1 is sold for about Rs. 5 and Khaini that used to cost Rs 5 is now sold for Rs 10-15 in black. Apparently, this money goes into the black market as officially these products are not sold in the state.

This issue has appeared in media several times since the imposition of the ban. Himachal Watcher had also highlighted the issue in 2012 and 2015.  Moreover, the discarded empty packaging of these products can be found littered across the state, which clearly suggests these products are still in use. 

On Nov 4, 2015, Himachal Pradesh government had announced a complete ban on the sale of loose cigarettes. However, a report on HW had noted that loose cigarettes continued to be sold at a higher price after the ban. Also, shopkeepers didn’t hesitate to sell these products to minors. Students of St. Thomas School, as a part of their internship with HW, had submitted this report with a video. The students themselves visited shops and bought loose cigarettes.

In nutshell, the State government has completely failed to implement that ban strictly, and this is why, despite the provision of a heavy fine of upto Rs. 25,000, shopkeepers are fearlessly selling banned tobacco products.   

These shopkeepers take precaution and sell these products to known buyers in their respective localities. In case of loose cigarette, shopkeepers are less precautious.

The challenge for the government is to ensure compliance with its policies of imposing such bans. Occasional action on selected sellers would not solve the purpose. Otherwise, the imposition of the ban on these products is only boosting the black market.

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Environment

Garbage Dumping Polluting Giri Ganga River – A Drinking Water Supply Source of Shimla

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Giri Ganga River pollution in Shimla

Shimla– The Gumma Nagar Panchayat in Kotkhai, Shimla district, like most of the other rural areas, lacks a proper solid waste management system. As a result, the usual method adopted here is dumping daily solid waste down the hill in an official dumping yard.

The locals from the panchayat wrote to Himachal Watcher regarding the adverse effect the dumping site in Gumma causing.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (2)

Overflowing dumping site in Gumma

They said the panchayat has allocated the site shown in the photo above to dump their garbage. This garbage is mostly left unsorted. 

With the growing population and increasing number of shops, the hillside is now overflowing with rubbish. This overflowing waste from the dump finds its way down to the Giri river water. 

It not only looks unsightly but also emits a foul smell. Moreover, the half-burnt rubbish flies in all directions, mostly downhill into the water.

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 3

The office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH Subdivision Gumma, is located near to this location. Still, the issue is being ignored. 

“Interestingly, the Department of Irrigation & Public Health is sitting above the location, blind and oblivious to it all,”

Devanshe Chauhan Lidgley, a local told Himachal Watcher.

IPH Office in Gumma

Office of the Assistant Engineer, IPH, Gumma

She further added,

“Complaints have been made to the Gumma Panchayat Pradhan who showed helplessness since it was a decision made by higher officials,”

The panchayat pradhan of Gumma told HW that, indeed, the area is facing a problem with daily garbage. There are five wards in the Nagar panchayat, and villagers do not have any common dumping ground. 

“The villagers have found suitable spots near their habitats where they dump their daily garbage,”

Tara Chauhan, the Pradhan of the panchayat told HW

“The dumping site shown in the pictures is particularly created to accommodate daily waste generated by shops in the market. The market has about 300 shops, and the daily waste is transported through pic-ups to the dumping site,”

she added.  

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district 03 (1)

A Pick-up dumping Gumma Market’s daily waste downhill

She also accepted that this dumping site is now overflowing as the amount of waste dumped is increasing. The issue has been brought to the attention of district administration of Shimla, she said, adding that the administration has asked the panchayat to find a new location for the creation of another dumping yard. However, it’s hard to procure land for it as no one would allow the creation of dumping site on private land, she said. 

“Earlier, we used to set the garbage ablaze when dumping reached on the verge of overflowing. However, now, we have directions not to burn garbage as it causes air pollution,”

Chauhan told HW. 

Gumma dumping yard in Shimla district

As a matter of fact, the said dumping site is overflowing and, in monsoon, a lot of waste is likely to find its way into the Giri Ganga. 

Giri Ganga is one of the main sources of drinking water supply to Shimla, and there is no need to say more why it requires immediate intervention of the district administration and the state pollution control board to prevent water pollution.

In the past, Shimla has already witnessed instances of jaundice outbreaks due to contaminated water that had killed about two dozen people.  However, it appears, we are waiting for another catastrophe to happen before appropriate action is taken.  

The garbage dumped here needs to be removed regularly and disposed of properly before the next truck of garbage is dumped. 

“Is the ‘Swaacch Bharat’ campaign only on papers? How can the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) succeed if the sources of Ganga are being polluted?”

asked the local.

It is a matter of concern that the district administration is still stuck at creating dumping yards, which is not a proper way to dispose of solid waste. At the same time, the villagers are left at their own to deal with the daily waste they generate. The State government needs to provide a solid waste treatment facility in rural areas.  

However, there are reasons to believe that the government is hardly concerned about this gigantic environmental issue. The only waste treatment plant that was supposed to convert Shimla town’s municipal waste into energy, is lying defunct. Instead, the locals allege, the plant has been turned into a dumping yard, which was on fire last month. The fire kept smouldering for over a week. 

A similar example was witnessed in Kenduwal of Baddi in Solan district where the Municipal Council and the Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA) were supposed to construct a solid waste treatment plant. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal. 

However, the plant never came up and the two responsible authorities created a huge dumping site by violating a number of environmental laws and guidelines. Not only they created this site on the flood-plains of Sirsa river but also ignored human habitat located at a distance of 30 meters from it.  The families living in this habitat had to approach the state High Court to get relief from the hellish conditions created by this illegal dumping site. 

 

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Enraged Protesters Barge Into MD HRTC Office Over Poor Bus Services, Leaves Staff Speechless

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Protest at MD HRTC Office

Shimla– After the tragic Banjar bus accident that killed 46 people and left about 37 injured and the school bus accident in Shimla‘s Khalini in which two students and the driver were killed, the Himachal Pradesh Government may have shown some strictness towards overloading, but it forgot to ensure delivery of additional services to facilitate commuters. Protests, especially from the student community are frequently being reported in newspapers and media portals.

Surprisingly, this strictness is limited to Himachal Pradesh Road Corporation buses, while private buses continue to ply overloaded. The public in rural areas is suffering a lot because of this faulty policy of the government. The people complain that even if no one is standing in buses, HRTC conductor or police do not let them board these buses.  The situation has worsened to a level that people are now feeling harassed due to inefficiency and lack of vision of the state government.

The locals from Shimla district had submitted a memorandum regarding the shortage of staff in HRTC and problem they are facing due to suspension of routes without any prior notice to the government through Managing Director, HRTC a couple of days ago. Shockingly, they were not given any response.

Eventually, on Thursday, aggrieved by and enraged over an acute shortage of bus services and harassment in the name of overloading, villagers from various parts of Shimla district gathered at the Old ISBT of Shimla to meet the Managing Director, HRTC. Their anger was fueled as soon as they found that the MD was not present in his office. Led by senior leaders of Communist Party of India (Marxist) including former Mayor of Shimla Town, Sanjay Chauhan and Rakesh Singha, a sitting MLA from Theog Constituency, people sat down outside MD ‘s office and staged an aggressive protest.

Watch How Protesting Locals Left HRTC Staff Speechless


The villagers alleged that while several HRTC routes were suspended in various parts of the district without any prior notice, private buses are encashing on the opportunity by overloading, to which Police is showing a blind eye. The villagers also alleged that in the name of overloading, the passengers are forced out of HRTC buses without provision of adequate services. At the same time, they alleged, the government is allowing overloading in private buses. 

Villagers complained that their vegetable produce is rotting either because the bus routes to their areas were suspended without information or the frequency of HRTC buses plying to the area was reduced to twice or thrice a week. In addition, the problem of not allowing them to load their produce in busses beacuse of the overloading gimmick was just adding to their woes.

Villagers also alleged that school students in rural areas are compelled to miss their classes, even exams due to lack of bus services.

“The number of girl students who have left school and are sitting at home because of the paucity of bus services is in thousands. Their schools are located at a distance of two to three hours, and without bus services, it is not possible for them to travel to schools and back home from schools. These students are dragged out of HRTC buses in the name of overloading but no additional service is provided to them,”

said one of the locals.  

“Biometrics are installed at offices for attendance nowadays. The employees are not able to reach office on time and their attendance is suffering,

said another local present among protestors.   

Later, when the Managing Director arrived at his office and met the protestors, he admitted that HRTC is facing a shortage of drivers and conductors which is adversely affecting bus services in several routes.  The MD agreed to the demand of restoring services on routes where only single buses were plying.

The protestors ended their protest only after the MD assured them to take effective steps to curb the shortage of HRTC bus service. The protestors warned the MD of more aggressive protests if adequate services are not delivered within a week.

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